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Leo Fortin
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Birth: May 4, 1906
Spink County
South Dakota, USA
Death: Apr., 1984
Codington County
South Dakota, USA

EDITOR'S NOTE-He remembers the good old days – the one-night stands, the small-town stages and the posh big-city hotel ballrooms. All in all, it was a good life, Leo Fortin recalls, playing the trumpet for Lawrence Welk, and for himself. Remember the times he played three horns at once?

WATERTOWN, S.D (AP – The trumpets of Leo Fortin lie silent and unused – little more than mute memorabilia, relics to jog the musical memories of a lifetime.

At the age of 74, a second career in local government also has ended for the feisty Fortin.

Over a 20-year span, with time out for one war and several personal rebellions, Fortin was featured with Lawrence Welk bands. His specialty was playing two, and even three, horns at the same time.

"He got a blacksmith to weld mouthpieces together," Welk recalls. "And when he did that act, Leo brought down the house. I had no chance to get the audience back. I might just as well have gone home."

Another stunt was holding a tone up to two minutes while a cohort with a tire pump pretended to pump air into the trumpeter. "The people in the audience would try to breath for me," Fortin remembers. "Yessir, it went over big."

Mostly it was a good life, playing with bands large and small. Fortin remembers driving through blizzards for one-night stands, sometimes getting only meals and lodging. But there are warmer recollections too, like eight-week engagements in ballrooms and posh hotels in Chicago, New York and California.

The best times were with Welk. They had their "ups and downs," both men say, but they remain friends.

"Leo was the best!" says Welk. He was an exceptionally fine musician and one of the best trumpet men in the nation, the finest I've ever known."
The admiration is mutual. "Mr. Welk was the finest man I ever worked for in my life," says Fortin. He's strict now, very religious, and he wants people to live his kind of life. But he never interfered with my living. He is a real, real person."

Tools not trumpets

Nowdays, the sounds coming from Fortin's home aren't from trumpets but from woodworking tools. He and wife Josephine have 11 grandchildren and Grandpa Leo makes dollhouse furniture, toys and Christmas ornaments.

"I'm retired now and I'd like to stay retired." He says. "It's been run, run, run all my life. But, yes, it will be hard to slow down."

The final retirement wasn't his idea. Fortin served four years on the Watertown City Council and eight on the Codington County Board of Commissioners but failed to win re-election this year.

He was born in Conde, S.D., where his father, Meddie Fortin, taught instrumental music. The family moved to a farm near Turton, where Leo attended school until his dad became city band director at Waubay. Meddie taught Leo the trumpet and the youngster left school after the ninth grade to join Bill Klitz' Butterfly Dance Orchestra.

Fortin was a "jumper" in those days, he admits, and played with a number of bands. He's forgotten the names of some; others he'd like to forget.

Joined Welk

In 1929, he joined Welk to play with the Hotsy Totsy Boys, Welk's Novelty Orchestra and Welk's Honolulu Fruit Gum Band. They traveled every day but Sunday. Nebraska allowed Sunday dances and they'd sometimes get to play Grand Island Saturday and Sunday. A two-night stand seemed like a steady job.

"We were paid $10 a night, and had to pay for our rooms and had to pay for our rooms and meals," Fortin remembers. "Mr. Welk furnished free transportation."
One time, Fortin and trombonist Terry George tired of "ricky-ticky-two" music and took off. "We formed the Leo-Terry Swing Band and we went flat on our kiesters," Fortin remembers. "After two years, we both returned to Welk."

Another time, the entire band quit. Welk says Fortin had a hot temper and was one of the leaders of the walkout. But when the trumpeter returned, Welk welcomed him back.

Infantry Band

Drafted in 1942, Fortin played with the 102nd Infantry Band and did guard duty in Europe. He was discharged in 1945, shipped to Norfolk, Va., took a train to Chicago, "happened to run into Lawrence again" and rejoined the band.

He left Welk "for good" in 1949, married and joined the Johnny Matuska Bohemian Band at Yankton, S.D. A year later, he moved to Watertown. Fortin gave private music lessons, formed another dance band and, by attending colleges in summertime, became certified so he could direct bands at Immaculate Conception School in Watertown and in nearby high schools.

He quit school band work five years ago. The dance band played "constantly" five or six nights a week, until bookings slowed. Tow years ago, he decided the time had come to put away his horns.

He remembers that Welk invited him back in 1950, saying "this time I'm gonna make it, Leo. You'd better come with me."

"I told him, ‘No, Lawrence, I'm going to settle down and stay in Watertown and raise a family.'"

That's what he did.

Family links: 
  Josephine L. Fortin (1918 - 2005)
Saint Marys Cemetery
Codington County
South Dakota, USA
Created by: Anonymous
Record added: Apr 04, 2008
Find A Grave Memorial# 25747918

 Added: Sep. 26, 2016

 Added: Sep. 26, 2016

- Anonymous
 Added: Jan. 10, 2012
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